New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Juvenile Justice Commission (“JJC”) Acting Executive Director Dr. Jennifer LeBaron have announced the release of the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative (JDAI) 2021 Annual Data Report. Since 2019, all 21 New Jersey counties have participated in this statewide reform initiative led by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which was implemented in phases in New Jersey beginning in 2004 and has led to dramatic reductions in juvenile detention center populations, changing the face of youth justice in the State of New Jersey.
As detailed in the JDAI 2021 Annual Data Report, comparing the year prior to JDAI implementation in each site to the current data across sites, the average daily population of juvenile detention centers decreased by 73.9 percent, resulting in 9,053 fewer youth admitted to detention annually, and tens of thousands of fewer young people admitted to detention since the implementation of JDAI. Youth of color have accounted for almost 90 percent of this drop. Adjusting for changing demographics in the general youth population, the overrepresentation of youth of color in detention has decreased by more than 5 percentage points since the implementation of JDAI in New Jersey. The number of girls in detention has decreased by almost 64 percent across the 21 counties, resulting in 64 fewer girls in secure detention on any given day.
“The transformation of New Jersey’s youth justice system is nothing short of remarkable and as a result, New Jersey continues to be a national model for reform,” said Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin. “Even with these successes, New Jersey’s youth justice reform continues, with a specific focus on minimizing racial disparities throughout the youth justice system, increasing opportunities for the diversion of low-level offenders into community-based programs where they can obtain needed services, and the strengthening of partnerships between schools, the youth justice system, and other stakeholders.”
JDAI was developed in response to national trends reflecting a drastic increase in the use of secure detention for youth despite decreases in youth arrests, and the resulting overcrowding of youth detention centers nationwide. The goal of this systems-change initiative is to create more effective and efficient processes surrounding the use of detention. To that end, JDAI works to reduce the number of young people unnecessarily or inappropriately held in secure detention, while maintaining public safety and ensuring youth appear for scheduled court dates. JDAI also works to redirect resources toward successful reform strategies and to improve conditions of confinement in detention facilities for those youth who require this most secure level of supervision.
“We know from research and direct experience that incarceration is one of the strongest predictors that a young person will have continued involvement in the juvenile justice system. The Juvenile Justice Commission is committed to increasing opportunities for the diversion of youth into community-based programs where they can obtain needed services,” said Dr. Jennifer LeBaron, Acting Executive Director of the JJC. “JDAI has proven to be a springboard for broader juvenile justice system change, allowing New Jersey to focus on tackling racial disparities in a collaborative and data-driven way, and leading to substantial reductions in commitments to the JJC. There is more work to be done, but JDAI has created the foundation for further youth justice reform.”
“The Judiciary’s work with the Juvenile Justice Commission and other key stakeholders has helped juveniles access the services and support systems they need as they approach adulthood. By expanding the use of alternative programs rather than detention, we are seeing outcomes for juveniles that are fair and reasonable regardless of race or gender. This decades-long collaboration to detain only the highest-risk juveniles while decreasing detention for the lowest-risk juveniles has advanced New Jersey’s efforts to increase positive outcomes for youth who become involved in the juvenile justice system,” said Glenn A. Grant, administrative director of the courts.
Youth who are placed in detention alternative programs receive services in their communities. Last year, just 5.5 percent of youth were discharged from a detention alternative program as the result of a new delinquency charge. Furthermore, the Uniform Crime Report figures indicate that in 2020 (the most recent year for which the Uniform Crime Report is available), juvenile arrests were down in all 21 sites as compared to each site’s pre-JDAI year, for a total reduction of 83.3 percent. Arrests for the more serious “index” offenses are down 81 percent. These factors provide clear evidence that JDAI public safety goals are being met.
In 2004, the Annie E. Casey Foundation selected New Jersey to be among the first states to replicate JDAI, which historically had been a county-driven initiative. That same year, New Jersey launched JDAI in five pilot sites – Atlantic, Camden, Essex, Hudson, and Monmouth counties. As counties expressed interest and demonstrated readiness, each new county was designated an official JDAI site.
The JJC provides the management and staffing infrastructure for JDAI in New Jersey, and partners with the New Jersey Judiciary to provide the critical leadership needed to effectuate long-term, lasting change in the youth justice system. This partnership, and the resulting success of JDAI, has brought New Jersey national recognition.
In 2008, as a result of the impressive outcomes achieved through JDAI, New Jersey was named a State Model Site for detention reform by the Casey Foundation. Since that date, representatives from 18 states have traveled to New Jersey to learn about New Jersey’s experiences and success with JDAI implementation. Nationally JDAI is operational in more than 300 local jurisdictions spanning 40 states, though New Jersey remains the only state designated as a Model Site by the Casey Foundation.
JDAI has not only reduced the number of youth sent to secure detention, but it has resulted in deep and dramatic systemic change in the state’s youth justice system. The decline in numbers has allowed several detention centers to merge. At the start of JDAI there were 17 county-operated detention centers in New Jersey. Today there are seven, resulting in approximately $30 million in annual cost savings per year for the sending counties and substantial revenue increases for those counties that receive youth from other counties. The reduction in the number of youth held in detention has also led to a reduction in the number of youth committed to state custody, typically the costliest of all dispositional placements. Across the 21 JDAI sites active in 2021, commitments to the JJC have been cut substantially, dropping by 90.5%, with 944 fewer youth committed to state custody in 2021 alone, as compared to each site’s pre-JDAI year. The decrease in commitments to state custody through JDAI has allowed the JJC to downsize operations and reduce expenditures, too. Most recently, in 2021, the JJC closed one residential community home and downsized secure care operations by closing housing units and eliminating custody posts. These downsizing efforts resulted in a sustained cut to the JJC’s operational budget of $2.6 million. As with detention reductions, the reduction in the population of youth committed to secure confinement has most dramatically impacted communities of color.